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Biography: Ann Radcliffe

Born in London, England in 1764, Ann Ward was the daughter of a middle class family, and was exposed to “progressive liberal views”[1] as well as politically conservative views in her upbringing. Ann was married to William Radcliffe 1787, and her early novels steadily earned her a reputation. She published the Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789), A Sicilian Romance (1790), and The Romance of the Forest (1791) anonymously, but she ascribed her name to her most famous work, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), for which she received an unheard of 500 pounds. The Italian, published in 1797, earned her 700 pounds, making her “the best-selling romance writer of her age”[2].

Ann Radcliffe belonged to the progressive, Enlightenment culture of the 1790s, which gave “women writers [a place in] the public sphere”[3]. A highly successful author, Radcliffe became an inspiration to novelists, such as Walter Scott, and to poets such as Keats (who dubbed her “Mother Radcliffe”)[4]. But the liberal ideals of the time were soon changed by the effects of the French Revolution, and “patriotic conservatism”[5] soon held public sway. The Gothic mode was seen as “the terror system of novel-writing,” and women authors were belittled[6]. Ann Radcliffe’s writing career declined, and she died in 1823. Though Radcliffe led a very private life, her influence on the Gothic genre and on other writers of the period cannot be overestimated.

[1] Miles, Robert. “Radcliffe, Ann.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. Ed. David Scott Kastan. © 2005 Oxford University Press. The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature: (e-reference edition).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.